by Julian X  /  sitenews  /  1 Jul 2008
Let's face it: literary sites don't tend to do very well. They're a losing proposition. People don't read fiction and poetry in any significant numbers anymore. That's just a fact. And there's certainly no money in it.
Another reason literary sites fail is because their creators give up. They expend their energy for no money and little audience. Eventually, after putting in countless hours for little rewards just because they love it, they have nervous breakdowns. Or, staving off nervous breakdowns, they're wise enough to just stop working on it. The site sits without updates, and the domain eventually lapses.
When I launched this site, I knew all of this perfectly well. I don't give up easily; I'm a tenacious motherfucker. If I was going to do this, I was going to commit to doing it right.
What I wanted was a site that looked great, with a curved design and colors friendly to women. A site with all the bells and whistles. I wanted audio to go along with every piece. And I wanted cutting-edge content: stuff that was sexy, literate, and smart. If we were going to be a literary website, we were going to have to make literature cool again.
I also wanted other material: non-fiction, artwork, songs, and video. Stories on the internet, on weird stuff, and on things readers needed to know about. Pretty pictures, including nude photography. Music and video to boot. All of which, besides being important in its own right, would attract attention to our literary work -- and let us, as creators, branch out into other media.
I also wanted Literary Escort Services to be a publisher. The site was originally going to be a web presence for my previous publishing venture, Gentle Scorpion Press, but others convinced me to change the name -- and they were right. While we haven't published any new books in the last year, we're experienced in doing so and will do so in the future.
From the start, I said I wasn't going to do all this -- program the site and commit to providing content myself -- if I didn't have others who were willing to commit to help out. I had a cadre of about a half dozen people, of various talents, who committed to anything from one to four items a week. I insisted we use conservative estimates: I didn't want to overtax them and have them burn out. I settled on a schedule of two items per day, running a month in advance. I even had an editor lined up to take that weight off my shoulders.
I wanted to launch on 1 May 2007. I bought the website and did most of the programming. As the date approached, there were clearly problems. People just weren't producing. To be fair, these were amateur writers and artists, people who weren't used to producing and were often terribly anxious about going public. People begged me to delay to 1 June, and I agreed, but nothing changed.
I had always wanted my own voice to be one of many, but instead was finding that I had to cap my own work at one item per day, or 50% of our total output. This only added to others' anxieties, since they felt like they were up against someone who was producing like crazy. As 1 June approached, I agreed to another request for delay: they were just getting up to speed, I was assured. But 1 July, I replied, would be the final date, come hell or high water.
No matter how many staff cocktail parties we organized, the promises kept rolling in and the submissions never did. The guy who promised four items a week produced one. The guy doing original art never did anything but a bio. Another guy did nothing until after the site was launched, and then only a few items. The guy who assured us he'd do nude photography, for whom we had a contract written for models, never produced any. Our editor was gone for the summer and ended up not coming back to the project. In their place, I recruited other people, sometimes spending many hours to go through their work and submit it for them.
We launched on time, but I was always struggling to keep to the schedule. Eventually, I had to admit the situation and go down to one item per day. Most of the replacements I recruited also left. Early this year, bogged down in other work, I even went down to occasional publication, but I never gave up. Then things started picking up again, and we've been back at one item a day for months, growing organically this time.
Two months ago, Gregory Wilde and I started a podcast. It's been getting better and better, really breaking the mold of the typical two-person chat. Someday, they're going to be talking about its innovations. It's really become something great.
It's hard to believe it's already been a year. In the last year, we've published 478 items, up to and including this one. That's over 1.3 items a day over the course of a full year. Not bad for a literary site with few contributors and no budget to speak of.
We still need more contributors, but we're doing okay with one item a day, running about a month ahead. We still need an audience, but we're growing.
We haven't lived up to my goal of having audio for each work of fiction or poetry, especially during those lean months, but we're getting better at this. And we haven't always been even in our offerings, nor have we offered video or nude photography.
And there's still programming to do, owing to the fact that my original programming drive was truncated by depression over people not producing. I've made improvements since but only on a piecemeal basis, and there's more to do.
But it's been a hell of a year, and we're not going anywhere. We're in it for the long haul, and we thank you for being here.
Those interested in submitting material can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with "submission to Literary Escort Services" as the subject. And everyone can let others know that we exist, forward links around, and do what they can do.
Here's to our next year! I'm sure it'll be better, both in terms of content and audience. Again, thanks for being here -- and tolerating this little look back on our anniversary.
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